Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Random Book Review Time!

I bought Never Too Late to Go Vegan: The Over-50 Guide to Adopting and Thriving on a Plant-Based Diet because hey, I've converted to a (mostly) plant based diet over 50, and one of my favorite experts on the health benefits, Dr. Neal Barnard had blurbed it. His books 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart: Boost Metabolism, Lower Cholesterol, and Dramatically Improve Your Health and The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook: 125 Easy and Delicious Recipes to Jump-Start Weight Loss and Help You Feel Great were my go-to resources when I switched to a (mostly) plant-based diet to improve my health, so I was very interested in this book about going plant-based over 50.

Mild warning: if you are interested in going plant-based for health reasons and think the whole "vegan thing" is a bridge too far, this book may or may not be your cup of tea, and may put you off - which would be a shame, because there's a lot of good stuff here. The authors are true-blue, dyed in the not-wool-plant-based-fiber-because-wool=cruelty vegans. Even I, a firm believer in the benefits to my health, had to stifle a few eye-rolls about wool and silk and such. If you're interested in the health benefits, stick with Dr. Barnard's books above, and the The Engine 2 Diet: The Texas Firefighter's 28-Day Save-Your-Life Plan that Lowers Cholesterol and Burns Away the Pounds books. They are more positive and health-oriented, and less what people find annoying about vegans. That said, I didn't disagree with too much of what the true blue vegans said about factory farms and our food supply.

Everyone should know where their food comes from, and the big agriculture factory farms that produce most of our meat and dairy are absolutely horrific. The Humane Society of the United States has been doing a lot on this issue. And have you heard of the rise in what are called "ag-gag" laws? The factory farms are fighting back, because they know if people saw what went on there, there would be an outcry of protest even from the most dedicated carnivores. Basically, any "disparagement" of the factory farm industry can get you sued in many states (Florida included). Photos and video of the systems that produce the meat and eggs and dairy you are feeding to your children are banned in many facilities. Don't be nosy! You have no right to know how that meat got there; it's in plastic wrap in the supermarket so shut up and buy it. It's actually against the law for outside visitors and journalists to visit and take pictures to tell you how it happens. I'm totally with the animal rights activists on this issue - we have a right to know how the food that gets to our table gets there, and that includes how the animals are "processed." (Spoiler alert: Once you know, you may develop a sudden urge to learn how to make creative meals without meat.)

But I did have a problem with the way this book dismissed sourcing animal products from known, small, local farms. Keeping backyard chickens for eggs is not on the same plane, or even in the same solar system, as the Chicken Factory, and I didn't like how the locavores and backyard chicken movement were just blown off without any discussion - it's just all wrong, because animals!

There are lots of reasons to avoid buying bargain brand honey, for example, like how a lot of it isn't actually honey, but personally I have NO problem with getting honey from a local beekeeper at the farmer's market. That's where I am on the plant-based scale; I am grossed out by the practices of the big agriculture companies that produce most of what you find in the meat and frozen foods sections of the supermarket, but I respect people who raise animals on a small, personal scale and treat them with care. As a knitter active in the online knitting world for over a decade, I know people who raise sheep, alpacas, etc., and I know how they love and respect those animals. They aren't mass-processing animals in a factory, and they work very hard to care for them.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals is one of my favorite books on the subject of our disconnection from our food.

Overall, I actually did like this book. It addresses a lot of issues of the over-50, family traditions, reactions from people who have known you forever, and more specific issues like being a caregiver to elderly parents, or being a vegan in a medical setting, and tips for navigating those challenges. But overall, it confirmed for me that while I may be vegan-adjacent I'm not really a vegan, and I'm not really interested in becoming vegan. I eat a nearly all plant based diet for health reasons, and I love it and it's not a big deal, because I'm flexible.

I was very interested in the "how to make this work when dealing with non-vegans" sections, and yeah, that's where being vegan becomes an issue. They really didn't offer an answer I found practical - "Call your host/hostess and tell them about your dietary preferences, and offer to bring a dish" to a dinner party - they'll "respect you, and you can share a vegan dish!" And this is why vegans are seen by the world at large as pains in the ass. Although the authors suggested smiling, keeping your mouth shut and not lecturing, they also suggested bringing your own food to parties, calling the hosts, pestering the waiters and the chef to make something special for you (I love my boss, but I can imagine how that would go over at a business dinner).

So, that's why I say I'm "mostly vegan." I have two back-to-back business dinners at the end of the month, and neither of them will be at veg-friendly establishments. I'll eat around the edges, pick the most veggie options, but will I make my dietary preferences an issue? No. I may even eat some wild-caught fish if I'm starving, and that may be the only animal product I eat all month.

Oh, and their suggestion for dating? Just order your food, don't make a big deal about saying you're vegan, don't bring it up (except of course, when you grill the waiter about your special order, your date MIGHT just catch a clue, or at least conclude that you are really high maintenance). Because nothing says a new relationship is off to a great start like being coy about something that is a guiding principle of your life. Yeah, get back to me on how that works, hon.

So no, this book didn't convert me to full-fledged vegan. Half the book is recipes, and most sound quite appealing, because vegan food really is quite good. I enjoyed this book because it made me really think about where I am on the food chain, and whether I am comfortable in my (mostly) plant based life. Yes, I am.





7 comments:

Gae, in Callala Bay said...

One of the best things we did (even if I didn't enjoy rural life very much) was spend 5 years, with teenagers on a rural property raising a LOT of our own food, including meat and eggs.
They know that meat, eggs and milk have a living provenance - they don't just appear in the supermarket by magic.
A lamb killed 'on farm' has a very different end, 6-8 lambs will be herded into a pen with no food, only fresh water, overnight. The 'unlucky' lamb will be marked (with chalk) beforehand. Next morning all but one will be let out of the pen, and the selected one will be dealt with so swiftly (and calmly) that it is dead before its pals are down the ramp.
We have a friend who is fanatically and (sometimes) obnoxiously vegan, and early this year he got the shock of his life - his heart was in such bad shape that he had to have SEVERAL stents put in place. Apparently he still thinks it should not have happened.

Gae, in Callala Bay

Catherine said...

And that's the thing about being vegan - you can be vegan to the max without coming close to the low-fat plant-based diet. I've learned over the last couple of years how different they are.

Yes, you can be a dedicated vegan and still eat a bad diet; it's still better than the average person but it's not a magic ticket to health. This book's recipes are okay, mostly, but still have way more fat and processed stuff than the cardiologists who did the research on the effects of this diet on heart disease and diabetes this recommend.

Gae, in Callala Bay said...

And I must admit that I don't know their D & V's daily meal regime, have only ever had morning or afternoon tea with them...... He (D) is the lean sort, and she (V) is positively skeletal. V is about 10 years younger than I am, and looks a LOT older.
But D's reaction to his cardiac emergency was hilarious, because he was convinced that being a VV (virtuous vegan) he would be immune to such troubles.
There is a LOT of schadenfreude going around the bike rider's group at the moment. Oooh! I am so EVIL !!

Gae, in Callala Bay

ellen kirkendall said...

I went vegetarian last year but my wife is still omni. She switched over to buying her meat from local sustainable farms and I think that's a good compromise. More than half of the time she eats veggie with me. It's factory farming that I object to, not eating that you & your body like. The Ag Gag laws horrify me. Can we be more obviously a corporatocracy?

Anonymous said...

Factory farming is absolutely horrendous, which is one of the reasons I prefer Lamb over Beef, and will only purchase Free Range chicken and eggs.
Apart from that, we enjoy a lot of vegetarian meals, and often choose the vege option when eating out.
Our planned move will take us to an area where we will be able (if we wish) to attend a Farmer's Market every weekend, and that will open up a lot of possibilities for ethical purchases.
We both feel healthy and robust (at 70 and 80) on a high vegetable mixed diet.

Gae, in Callala Bay

Catherine said...

Do you have farm share boxes or the like available in your area? I'm very tempted, but would have to split it with another household before the veggies spoiled.

Anonymous said...

No real need, Ernst has been growing a large proportion of our vegetable for years, and we have been giving stuff away hand over fist for years !!
He has worked out what works here, and what is worth growing - beans are great, peas not, broccoli is excellent. Tomatoes and Cucumbers depend heavily on the sort of season. Spaghetti squash does well
Plus one bed of asparagus, yum!

Gae, in Callala Bay